Tracking ticket inspectors – #AuthOffMelb

TD;DR, Use of a standard hashtag for tracking ticket inspectors, and specific hashtags for routes and stops, would improve the level of information available to commuters on social media.

Approximately 5.9% of public transport users fare evade. I’m surprised it isn’t higher; there are plenty of good reasons people fare evade.

Consider the rate of poverty; 13.7 of Melbournians live below the Henderson poverty line. All of the current welfare payments fall below the Henderson Poverty line. If you are on any form of welfare payment, you’re likely subsisting on <$20/day after rent. A concession myki daily in zone 1 is $3.76. Everybody need some basic access to transport, and until there is some form of free public transit, a sizable minority of public transport users will be forced to either fare evade or walk.

I am surprised that so many living on so little scrape together the payments demanded by the private operators of our supposedly public transport system. But then, consider the level of policing. As a recent report in The Age highlights:

“More than 13 million tickets have been checked since October 2013, with authorised officers checking around 400,000 more tickets per month than the same time a year ago,” Mr Fedda said.

Fare evasion peaked in 2011, during the transition to the myki smartcard system, when 12.7 per cent of passengers fare evaded. Since then the number of fines handed out has soared 46 per cent, with 158,000 infringement notices issued in 2013-14, Mr Fedda said.

The daily experience of ticket inspection has been one of harassment, intimidation, and more than occasional violence.

Whether it’s disgust at violence by inspectors, a $1.5 billion dollar ticketing system paid for with public money for the gain of private contractors, ongoing boycott in protest at the sacking of Connies, or the simple fact that we all need to travel whilst not all of us can pay – there are many good reasons to fare evade.

There are also many good reasons to want to know where the “chaps” enforcing this farce are at.

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Three years ago the Sydney tabloids breathlessly reported on a sinister new mobile app that was going to tell us all where the ticket inspectors were at. The Spector app hasn’t been updated since 2013 and receives little in the way of traffic.

More recently the Herald Sun and others have reported on Facebook pages warning commuters of the location of authorised officers:

THOUSANDS of Melbourne fare evaders are dodging ticket inspectors with the help of social media snitches that track their whereabouts.

More than 4700 people have liked a Facebook page that posts the whereabouts of inspectors and encourages others to do the same.

Two of the larger Facebook groups are Report Ticket Inspectors live and Where are our mates, Melbourne’s PT ticket wardens today?.

Both of these groups are interesting projects, but it’s a bit of a lucky dip as to whether you will find the information you want by trawling these groups when you are traveling. The same is true for information on twitter.

Public transport users interested in tracking, monitoring, or avoiding (for various reasons) Melbourne’s ticket inspectors need a more reliable system. My earth shattering proposal: basically what everyone is already doing but with some standard hashtags.

There should be a general hashtag for tracking authorized officers in Melbourne (as opposed to the generic #ticketinspectors, which whilst intuitive is just as likely to give you information about scum on the tube), and then specific hashtags for every tram, train and bus service.

For want of a better solution, I propose #AuthOffMelb. It’s a bad attempt at a bad pun.

I’d then propose that all reports of ticket inspectors locations include a hashtag for the service. For buses, #bus and then the bus number, eg. #bus903. For trams, #rt and then the route number, eg. #rt19. For trains, #[destination]line, eg. #WerribeeLine. If used consistently, this would give people the ability to check ticket inspector locations on their line.

It would also be useful to use standard hashtags for stops and stations. Stations are easy, #StationnameStation, eg. #FlemingtonStation. Both trams and buses have stop numbers, but I’m not sure how many people pay attention to either. It’s probably easier to encourage people to use the most common name for stops, eg. #MelbourneUniStop.

So the long and short of all that rambling: if people chose to Facebook and tweet reports on the location of ticket inspectors in a standard format with some standard hashtags, more people might be able to make use of that information in various ways.

Examples (entirely fictional):

Chaps at #VicUniStop. #bus550 #bus551 bus#250. #authoffmelb

There are delightful people on #rt57 to city, just passing #ChildrensHospitalStop. #authoffmelb

The #CranbourneLine that just left #SouthernCrossStation is crawling with them. #authoffmelb

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Attempting to avoid or track ticket inspectors is not a long term solution. Every person living here needs to be able to move about the city. Public transport is a public good that should be provided for all, yet at present we live in a city where hired goons extort money from public transport users who (where they are fare evading) largely can’t afford it. Public transport built and maintained at public expense has been contracted out for private gain.

In the long term we should demand free public transport. As an anarchist, another interesting question is that of direct action. How can public transport users take collective action to demand or create free public transport?

The basic idea that springs to mind is some kind of payment strike. Mass non compliance with ticket inspectors, perhaps backed up by the collective action of commuters to eject ticket inspectors from public transport vehicles, could render public transport fares meaningless. Any such campaign would have to involve both the majority of public transport workers and a sizable proportion of commuters to be successful.

A payment strike is not practical at this point. Until it is, we should continue to raise the demand that everyone has the right to move about this city, whether they have $3.76 or not.


Check out this handy flow chart, “Can I ride the tram?”.

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